The Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors has authorized a study into the feasibility of expanding free public Wi-Fi from 32 county parks to all 182.

The first step is for staff to research ways to provide the free service and to conduct a feasibility study with a cost-benefit analysis, including one-time and ongoing costs and identifying funding opportunities, including external grants and partnerships.

Some parks and park facilities even offer computers for visitors to use, but the lack of Wi-Fi access renders them inadequate for many users’ needs.

Park patrons of all ages would benefit from Internet access that will enable them to obtain information about parks quickly, reserve picnic areas and other amenities, register for recreation programs and sign up to volunteer at their local parks. In addition, many children in afterschool programs offered through L.A. County Parks cannot complete their homework without Internet access. According to a study conducted by the Public Policy Institute of California, 36 percent of Los Angeles County residents have no Internet access.

“Access to free public Wi-Fi increases access to jobs, educational opportunities, civic engagement and critical public services,” Supervisor Kathryn Barger said. “By offering free Wi-Fi in all of our county parks, we are providing the citizens of L.A. County with a much-needed resource.”

L.A. County Parks has gained a reputation for finding news ways to meld technology and nature by considering revolutionary tech:

— Digital sensors and transmitters in county forests to warn of fire or excessively dry soil;

— Equipping swimmers at county pools with inexpensive necklaces, bracelets or headbands that use artificial intelligence to detect when a swimmer is injured or unconscious and transmit a warning to a lifeguard;

— A low-power, long-distance wireless network on the county's 210 miles of trails that would serve as "SOS stations along the trail route," said the agency’s former chief information officer, Mohammed Al Rawi, who in March was named CIO for the county Public Defender’s Office, that agency’s first CIO. Under that scenario, the "mesh" network would enable rescuers to triangulate a downed hiker’s location and effect a rescue. (Al Rawi was subsequently named one of the nation’s Top 25 Doers, Dreamers and Drivers by Government Technology, Techwire's sister publication.) 

The agency director, John Wicker, noted: “Providing free Wi-Fi at our parks is just one of many ways that the L.A. County Parks is working to ensure that our residents can access the recreational programs and services they need. Technology plays an ever-important and influential role in enhancing park guests’ experience.”